Square Deal Sought for Chelsea Triangle
BY MAXINE WALLY | Having initially explored design and use options during an October 17, 2012 meeting of Community Board 4’s Transportation Planning Committee (TPC), the TPC once again met on January 15 to further discuss Chelsea Triangle.
Located at Ninth Avenue between West 14th and 15th Streets, the plaza is currently used for community seating, as well as events like farmer’s markets and, formerly, Thursday night Salsa classes. It is also, however, a relatively dangerous crosswalk and an area prone to intense traffic congestion. For this reason, both the Department of Transportation (DOT) and CB4 agreed that plans to reconfigure the Triangle must be made with public safety and interest in mind.
Back in October, members of the DOT presented some of their plans and ideas. In addition to more clearly delineated parking, walking and driving areas, the DOT proposed adding bulb outs, (curbs that extend farther out) to shorten the pedestrian crossing distance along Ninth Avenue and decrease the speed of turning vehicles. This would create a larger triangle overall.
Engineering Consultant Jeff Meyers of URS Corporation, along with design consultant Ken Smith (of Landscape Architects) and Emily Weidenhof (of the DOT) gave a presentation and analysis of traffic and pedestrian patterns based on a field study they conducted, by way of 24-hour video surveillance, for 10 days during the month of October.
According to the study, peak hours of street activity are on Friday nights, from 10:30-11:30pm. Many use the crosswalk on 15th Street on the West side, and there are higher instances of accidents involving pedestrians, bikers and vehicles on that specific area of the Triangle. Down on the 14th Street end, pedestrians and vehicle interaction adds to the congestion, because of vehicle turns that make it more difficult for those on foot to clear.
“For the past three years, there have been seven crashes at 16th Street, 10 at 15th Street and 22 at 14th Street,” Meyers said. “We have identified the patterns there and we tried to mitigate them in our design by re-striping some of the roadways to give a clear sense of what drivers should be doing.”
The DOT reminded all that the plans were still in the works, and that this was a relatively early stage in the design.
When a nearby resident suggested using the space for a community garden, the DOT said that idea was premature, since they were still considering how many trees, and what kinds of trees, to plant in the space.
The TPC emphasized their desire to make the area self-maintaining, and have fewer events going on so as to require less upkeep —essentially, maximizing public use and minimizing private use.
At conclusion, the board thanked the DOT once more, saying they appreciated the latter entity’s holistic approach to improving the space.
On January 16, representatives George Roberts and Katie Solomon of the Chelsea Improvement Company (CIC), a non-profit neighborhood redevelopment corporation that manages maintenance with the DOT attended the TPC’s monthly meeting with updates on the Triangle.
With plans to launch a farmer’s market and community events like Capoeira and yoga classes for children in the spring, the CIC discussed potential vendors — in addition to a possible cooperative relationship with Fulton Youth of the Future — then asked the board for suggestions and referrals to organizations.
Currently, most of the food vendors planned for the spring are from the greater tri-state area. A mix of artists, jewelers and craftspeople comprise the other half of planned merchants. Roberts elaborated on the sales peoples’ trouble establishing a pattern of regular participation, citing the difficulties of “getting a market culture started. It’s not always easy, because you have to build it into people’s routines.”
The board advised the CIC to work more closely with the community by, among other things, advertising upcoming events at CB4 meetings and putting forth new ideas for non-profit involvement. CIC co-chair Jay Marcus advocated for the inclusion of local groups and organizations.
“I think it’s great that you have programming, a couple hours a week, that encourages people to get out and use the park,” said Marcus. “I hope that you keep doing those community programming things. But there are non-profit cultural institutions for our low-income residents in the area you can work with, maybe set up a booth for them.”
“We need a booth at the farmer’s market for people who aren’t selling,” reiterated board member Elizabeth Zechella.
Roberts and Solomon did confirm that all vendors accept food stamps, and that they had initiated linking up with Hudson Guild.
TPC member Brett Firfer suggested the CIC get in touch with rooftop farmers or the Chelsea Gardening Club, as there have been recent pushes for education to make that more prevalent.
Vice Chair Christine Berthet brought up the redesign of the triangle, first introduced in October of 2012, and the board’s initial displeasure at the largeness, lack of green in the proposal and a call for more park, less plaza.
“No news on that,” Berthet said, referring to the boards ‘requests for design changes in the initial proposal. “We’re still waiting on those results.”
“We are in the same place,” Roberts replied. “We will hear what’s going to happen with that later.”
For more information, visit chelseaimprovement.com/neighborhood/chelsea_triangle.html, nyc.gov/html/dot/html/home/home.shtml and nyc.gov/html/mancb4/html/about/TRANS.shtml.